Chapter 8 (part 3 of 4 )

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Gallen returned to the pidc that morning, put on the instruct-tion hood. "Teach me about mankind," he said. The teacher began with genetics and showed the path of evolution, including ancient species of mammals and dinosaurs whose DNA had been salvaged and reproduced on many worlds. The teacher taught him the genetic structure of man, showing how genetic engineers had developed mankind into over a thousand distinct subspecies, each bred to a specific purpose, to live in a specific environment.

He learned the schemes humans used to achieve life extension. Thousands of drugs and procedures had been developed to cheat death. Most who died had their consciousness transmitted to virtual heavens that existed within computers. Some had their memories downloaded to machines, like the artefs, which were simply colonies of self-replicating nanotech devices. The most ambitious plans to beat death involved life extensions coupled with downloading memories into clones. Such plans culminated in virtual immortality—a commodity that had once been reserved for the most deserving but now available only to the wealthiest.

Last of all, the teacher showed Gallen the crowning achieve-ment of genetic manipulation, the Tharrin, a race fashioned to embody nobility and virtue, a race designed to integrate fully with personal intelligences without losing their humanity. The Tharrin were to be the leaders and judges of mankind, a subspecies that would control the naval fleets, the police forces, and the courts of a million worlds.

The Tharrin's physical features embodied strength and perfection. Certain glands secreted pheromones that attracted other humans so that the Tharrin constantly found themselves at the center of attention. Yet the Tharrin seldom became conceited. They did not see themselves as leaders or judges, but as the servants of mankind.

Gallen was not surprised when an image of a Tharrin formed in his mind, and he recognized Everynne in a thousand details.

Yet the Tharrin represented only half of a human/machine intellect. The machine half, the planet-sized omni-minds, stored information on the societies, moral codes, and political factions of tens of thousands of worlds. All such information was used when debating criminal and civil suits, but the data was all considered to be obsolete when passing a judgment. When a Tharrin passed judgment, it did so based on information stored in its omni-mind, but human empathy and understanding were meant to vitiate judgment. In the end, the wise and compassionate Tharrin ruled from the heart.

In his lessons, Gallen learned the brief history of Fale, how here the Tharrin ruler Semarritte had been overthrown by the alien dronon. For decades, the dronon had presented a threat to mankind, but Semarritte and her Tharrin advisors refused to go to war. Semarritte had created more guardians to protect her realm—creatures who were as much nanotech machine as flesh, creatures who could be controlled only through her omni-mind. Yet always Semarritte and the Tharrin had hoped that the humans and dronon might someday learn to live together in peace. They could not reconcile themselves to the horrors that would result from an interspecies war.

But in a surprise attack, dronon technicians won control of Semarritte's omni-mind, then manipulated her fleets and guardians, sending them to war against their human creators. Then the dronon

killed Semarritte herself and murdered every Tharrin who fell into their hands.

Gallen had to rest and eat again, but he came back late that night and questioned his teacher on matters of law, hoping that he would find some legal means of freeing Maggie. Under the old Tharrin law, slave-taking had been criminal. But under dronon law, Lord Karthenor could capture or buy servants who were not claimed by more powerful lords. Since his work ranked as a top priority among the dronon, he was free to choose servants from ninety percent of the population.

Seeing that he had no legal recourse, Gallen sought infor-mation on current war and battle techniques, but the teacher let him study only some very basic self-defense. Obviously, the dronon controlled this teaching machine to some degree, and they would not let it teach tactics that might be used against them.

In his last session that evening, Gallen downloaded a map of Toohkansay. That night, he dragged himself back to the woods late. Orick had returned to the camp.

"I searched all around the spot where we entered," Orick said. "I couldn't smell Everynne anywhere. I couldn't find any other cities."

"I know." Gallen sighed. "Toohkansay is the only city for—" he converted kilometers to miles in his head "—eighty miles."

"I don't understand," Orick said heavily. "We all went in the same gate, but we didn't come out at the same place."

"The making of gate keys is hard," Gallen said, "and our key was stolen from someone who may have fashioned an imperfect key. Obviously, it dropped us off in the wrong spot. Each gate leads to only one planet, so I'm certain we are on the right world, but Fale is a big place. We might be two miles from Everynne, or ten thousand. There is no way to tell."

Orick studied Gallen. "You're certain of this, are you?"

"Aye, very sure," Gallen said.

"What else did you learn in the city?"

Gallen could not begin to answer. He had studied hand-written books in Tihrglas, but in only a few hours here on Fale, the equivalent of a thousand volumes of information had been dumped into his head. How could he explain it?

"I went to a library," Gallen said. "I learned some things from a teaching machine, like a Guide—but this machine doesn't control your actions. I learned so much that I can't begin to tell you everything. But I can take you there tomorrow, if you have a mind to learn something."

"I'll not have one of their devices twisting my brain, thank you!" Orick growled. "I saw what it did to Maggie!"

"It's not the same," Gallen said. "This is a different kind of machine. It won't hurt you."

"Won't hurt me, eh?" Orick said. "What have they done to you? There's a new look in your eyes, Gallen O'Day. You're not the same man who left here two days ago. You can't tell me that you're the same, can you?"

"No," Gallen said. "I'm not the same." He reflected for a moment. Only a few days before, Everynne had told him that she found the naiveté of his world to be refreshing. She'd wished that all worlds could be so innocent. And now Gallen lived in a much larger universe, a universe where there was no distinct boundary between man and machine, where immortals wielded vast power over entire worlds, where alien races battled the thousand subspecies of mankind for dominance in three separate galaxies.

Gallen could have described the situation to Orick, but he knew Orick wanted to be a priest. He wanted to sustain the faith of those in Tihrglas, ensure the continuation of the status quo, and Gallen saw that this too was a valuable thing. In one small corner of the galaxy there could be sweet, blissful ignorance. In one small corner of the galaxy, adults could remain children. Knowledge carries its own price.

"I have learned some of the lore of the sidhe," Gallen said at last. "Not a lot, but perhaps enough. I'm going to try to steal Maggie back."

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